Breathe, part 2

I have an ask. Every year, I ask you – your denomination asks you -- to read one new book. Last year, it was Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, Indigenous People’s History of the United States. The year before that it was an anthology of essays called Justice on Earth: People of Faith Working at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Environment. Every year since 2010, the Unitarian Universalist Association has selected a Common Read book for all UUs across the land to read and talk about – a text to engage together.

Over the last 11 years, we Unitarians have read together, cried together (and, yes, laughed together in the shared joy of conceiving justice together) with:
Margaret Regan, The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands;
Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation;
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness;
Saru Jayaraman, Behind the Kitchen Door (about restaurant workers);
Paul Rasor, Reclaiming Prophetic Witness: Liberal Religion in the Public Square;
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption; William Barber, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear;
the anthology, Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry; and
Frances Moore Lappé, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection.

This year, our common read is Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, published by our own Beacon Press. I ask you to buy or borrow the book, and to read it, if you haven’t. I ask you to do that in the next month, and then I ask you to get together with other UUs to share and reflect together on the experience of reading it.

In past years, we offered a class about the Common Read. This year, we’re offering a small group experience because we want each person to have a chance to share a little more in depth – to have the more intimate experience of connecting with a small group. I ask you to sign up for and attend one of the zoom conversations about Breathe. There are five to choose from – and we’ll add more as the need arises. We are collaborating in this with other Westchester UU congregations, and one of the facilitators is a member of our congregation in Croton.

The groups are scheduled for May 20 through 24. (See the available groups and how to sign up HERE.) Choose the group and time that’s convenient for you, and show up to engage with this beautiful text.

It’s one of the ways that we can do what our species was made to do, and what, at our best, we do do: build belonging together, build community – community of justice and of love. My ask is just that you read the book and come to one 90-minute session to engage with the text and with others.

You will find Dr. Perry’s book emotionally raw, deeply reflective, and a thing of joy and inspiration – for there is no greater joy or inspiration for people – for humans – than building belonging together, the telos for which natural selection has made us. Widening our circle – building belonging for those who have so often been excluded – is how we come into the fullest joy of our own belonging.

The greatest joy available to us is a life pointed toward justice. The progress may come in baby steps – or in surprisingly large strides in a short time – but the joy is in living “in the along” pointed toward beloved community, toward inclusion, toward justice, whatever the pace of society’s progress may be.

Imani Perry, born in 1972 in Birmingham, Alabama -- interdisciplinary scholar of race, law, literature, and African-American culture – Professor at Princeton University – has given us an unfettered expression of love — of finding beauty and possibility in life. She writes in the book’s Afterword:
“In a life of authorship and interpretation, analysis and architecture and deconstruction, love is my cipher of choice – one that I have decided is better to have than the social contract or law sitting at your core, because you have entered it rather than simply being bound. It has its own improvisation and contingent rules and ethics. Some we give to our young; some they fashion from their own living. And they teach us in the process. They are doing so. Every second-person sentence devoted to them in these pages is to all of us. It is received wisdom from their witness and passionate hope for their futures. We, you, they, do not have to fight a whole society over its terms to find another way of living as long as you love the right ones, freshly, and in the immediacy of your connection. And when you do fight, and I know you will, do not fear the humiliation of defeat. Defeat is not humiliating. Rather, passivity to evil is self-immolation. Witness the joy and the wound. Imagine and then create laughter and ideas and responsibility to one another....
Make in that love a technology to fill up the gaping holes, a gear that winds in the urgency of hope. It is from there that revolutionary possibility emerges.”
Breathe is, as you can tell, “an elixir of history, ancestry and compassion, which, together, become instruction” – as the New York Times review put it. This book is a broad meditation on race, gender, and the meaning of a life well lived as well as an unforgettable lesson in Black resistance and resilience.

If you come to this congregation looking for joy, for uplift, and inspiration: this is it. “The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real,” as Marge Piercy has said. Building belonging together is the work that is real – that swells our hearts, fulfills our spirits, and sets us free.

Freedom is coming. May it be so, blessed be, and Amen.

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